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Windows on zBX, clustered z/VM, and virtual z/VSE

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Mainframe hardware got a refresh at the high end last year and in the midrange this year, but that is it for this level of big iron from IBM for a while. However there are plenty of enhancements the company will add to its mainframe operating systems to keep its largest customers happy – and therefore happy enough to pay the premiums that IBM commands for its mainframe iron.

No vendor can just sell a system these days. They have to tell a story, and one with a happy ending. And so when IBM announced the high-end zEnterprise 196 mainframes back in July 2010, it wasn't just about cranking up the quad-core System z engine to 5.2GHz and adding RAID-like data protection to main memory, but also about creating a "system of systems" with the mainframe and its proprietary – and more importantly, obscure and secure internal – networking, linking out to blade servers using Power7 or Xeon 7500 processors as well as various appliances to create something that looks more like an asynchronous system and less like a collection of machines sharing space but not really working together.

El Reg went into all the feeds and speeds of the zEnterprise BladeCenter Extension for IBM's mainframes back in January, when they started shipping. The interesting bit is that IBM planned to support AIX on the Power blades and Linux on the x86 blades, mainly because it controls AIX and Linux is open source so it can see how to integrate Linux into its Unified Resource Manager control freak on mainframes. URM controls the operating systems and hypervisors on the mainframe and its adjunct blades. But Microsoft controls Windows, and therefore IBM didn't want to make any promises about Windows on the zBX. But mainframe shops, which have zillions of unruly Windows machines, essentially pushed Big Blue into promising to offer Windows support in April of this year.

After working on this for nearly a year, IBM says that it will have Windows running on its HX5 Xeon-based blade servers for the zBX chassis on December 16. Windows can be deployed onto the HX5 blades as they are attached to either the zEnterprise 196 big box or the zEnterprise 114 midrange mainframe that came out in July.

And yes, that means mainframe operators can play Crysis on a mainframe – for loose definitions of the term "on", of course.

IBM is supporting AIX 5.3, 6.1, and 7.1 on the PS701 blade servers in the zBX enclosures. The HX5 blades have been able to support Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.5, 5.6, and 6.0, as well as SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 SP4 and 11 SP1, since the beginning of the year and can now run Microsoft Windows Server 2008 R2 Datacenter Edition. That's the one with the unlimited virtualization and the higher price tag, although technically there is no reason why any of the cheaper Windows editions shouldn't work.

The zBX extension can have 112 PS701 blades or 28 HX5 blades, and IBM boasted at the zEnterprise 196 launch that the combination of the mainframe and zBX chassis could support more than 100,000 virtual machines. The zBX can also host the Smart Analytics Optimizer, a coprocessor to speed up database queries on mainframes, and the DataPower Integration Appliance, which is kind of like a translator that runs on Power-based blades that sits between mainframe apps and the outside world, which wants to speak XML and SOA.

In addition to supporting Windows on the zBX, in December IBM will also goose the URM tool with programmatic access to APIs to make the collective run more smoothly as well as allowing URM to dynamically discover storage resources that can be used for z/VM virtual servers. z/VM is one of IBM's several hypervisor technologies for mainframes as well as an operating system in its own right.

z/VM gets clustering and live migration

Speaking of z/VM, Big Blue is previewing the V6.2 release of that mainframe operating system/hypervisor, which will start shipping on December 2. z/VM is, of course, the virtualization layer that underpins the Linux operating system on System z mainframes.

The neat new feature with z/VM V6.2 is called z/VM Single System Image Cluster (or VMSSI for short), and as the name suggests, it allows up to four z/VM-based mainframes to be coupled very tightly into a shared memory system. This is akin to what Virtual Iron (now part of Oracle) was trying to do for Linux boxes back in the early 2000s and that ScaleMP and RNA Networks (now part of Dell) currently do in one fashion or another. The linking up of four separate z/VM hypervisors on four distinct System z mainframes allows for those four machines to look like a single shared memory system to the operating systems and applications that ride on top of z/VM. It also allows for the live migration of running Linux partitions around the VMSSI cluster – something that z/VM has needed to compete with x86-based hypervisors that have been able to do this for years now.

The updated z/VM V6.2 runs on the latest zEnterprise 114 and 196 systems and can also be run on the earlier System z10 BC and EC machines. It requires 64-bit processors and memory addressing, but can host older 31-bit operating systems and applications. z/VM V6.2 has been tweaked to allow for IBM's XIV clustered file systems and TS1140 tape drives to be attached directly to z/VM-based machines, too. There's a slew of capitalized alphabetical enhancements, which you can read about here.

Let's get virtual, virtual

IBM is also previewing the next release of its VSE mainframe operating system, z/VSE V5.1. While MVS, OS/390, and z/OS are the high-end mainframe operating systems for big iron beasts running WebSphere middleware, Java and COBOL applications, and DB2 databases as well as offering a Unix runtime environment, VSE has in recent years been popular on smaller machines running the CICS transaction monitor and DB2 database.

The big new thing with z/VSE V5.1 is 64-bit virtual addressing, which is an upgrade from the 64-bit "real" addressing that came out with z/VSE V4.1. Way back in the dawn of time, System/370 mainframes had 24-bit memory, which gave you a 16MB address space. With the System 370/XA machines, IBM boosted it up to 31-bit addressing, giving you 2GB of memory. Programs written for 24-bit modes could run on 31-bit systems.

In 2000, with the zSeries line, IBM moved to 64-bit physical addressing, allowing in theory for a mainframe to address up to 16 exabytes (a little more than a million terabytes) of memory. Generally speaking, the virtual addressing above the 2GB limit is used for application and data, not the operating system. Anyway, virtual addressing with prior z/VSE releases was still 31-bit, and now it is 64-bit, which means mainframe shops don't have to bend over backwards with data spaces or hacked algorithms to manage the use of the memory above the 2GB limit. Now, that upper memory is accessible virtually, just like it is in z/OS.

z/VSE V5.1 will be available on November 25. It runs System z10 BC and EC mainframes as well as on the zEnterprise 114 and 196 machines. ®

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